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Paradise Lost

We can no longer wait for "when Pirlo and Lampard arrive," because they're here. Ninety-Plus of Blue explains why that's going to make losses like Saturday's against Montreal a lot harder to stomach (with some help from Wallace Stevens).

Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.

— Wallace Stevens

The day we’ve been waiting for has ostensibly come. And yet what might have been a day of jubilation feels, today, like a day of reckoning: the realization of a dream, no matter what it looks like, still takes away the dream as such. We can’t say "when" anymore, because "when" is now—and that means dealing with what’s in front of us.

Two weeks have meant two long-awaited débuts, albeit one significantly longer-awaited than the other. Since my last writing, Pirlo and Lampard have taken the pitch to tremendous applause, the former’s the more pronounced because it came at the midpoint of an important victory. Most commentators have noted, rightly, that Pirlo’s introduction gave the team a potential it had previously lacked. Like the philosopher’s stone turning lead to gold, Pirlo’s presence was less of a direct intervention and more of a catalyst, transforming the elements around it without itself seeming to change. And in the week intervening between Orlando and Montreal, it was impossible for any blue-hearted New Yorker not to wonder what the promise shown Sunday would look like when multiplied by yet another legend in the midfield in Frank Lampard. The prospects were nothing, to the unchecked imagination, but sweetness and light.

Saturday’s performance settled instead like the humid afternoon that contained it, lethargic and inescapable.

We have had our share of difficult losses, as fans. But in each of them we had something we will, from now on, no longer have: the ability to say, "Just until Lampard arrives, and Pirlo; just until we have all three DPs." No matter how the rest of the season goes, this particular form of escapism will be closed to us. No matter how well they play, it will be "Not as a god, but as a god might be / Naked among" us.

Wallace Stevens’s poem "Sunday Morning" has more for New York City FC supporters than just a distraction from another sort of Sunday morning. Stevens and his female interlocutor contemplate a Sunday morning without the thought of divinity—and by extension, a world that does not go beyond what is in front of us, a surface without any depth. A world without heaven, in other words. But it is not the world without heaven per se that concerns Stevens. His preoccupation is what the absence of heaven does to those occupying a world that is, suddenly, all there is. What if the world were paradise, and paradise the world? To this end he reduces paradise to an observable, physical reality: "Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs / Hang always heavy in that perfect sky…?" And the reverse, with paradise becoming "so like our perishing earth," and the commonalities exposed: those aspects of life on earth that remain unattainable, ideals despite being materially manifest, "the same receding shores / That never touch with inarticulate pang." Elsewhere, the sky becomes "Not this dividing and indifferent blue"—not a mere barrier to paradise—but "next in glory" only "to enduring love." Paradise is found in the vagaries of the material world, or not at all: hence today’s passage, which could have been almost any handful of lines from this long and difficult poem. "Divinity must live within" ourselves and the experience of the actual, because the paradise we want was only, paradoxically, attainable in its very absence.

In this sense, we had Lampard most fully while we continued to wait, often impatiently, for him to arrive.

None of this is to say that we should be disappointed with the performances of Andrea Pirlo or Frank Lampard any more than we are disappointed with the performances of the whole team. Quite the opposite. I mean to recognize the extent to which the idea of these arrivals comforted us more than their actual presence will be able to at first. But like Stevens’s, my thoughts ultimately resolve in a celebration of the actual. I am among the throng irrationally cheering every touch, whatever happens next, for the simple joy of the still simpler fact that we get to watch them play in our stadium. That may have to be enough for the immediate future. And there may be "gusty / Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights" and "Grievings in loneliness" awaiting us, but those come with—even create the conditions for—"unsubdued / Elations."

I have titled this post after a different poem entirely, much longer, much more difficult: "Paradise Lost." I find the pun, as I often do with puns, irresistible. Paradise has been "lost" in the sense that Wallace Stevens narrates: it is lost as a concept with which we can fill the otherwise barren Sunday morning (in our case, the Sunday morning after a difficult defeat). But if we are defining "paradise" as a team with Villa, Pirlo, and Lampard, then in a very crude sense, paradise lost.

But I, for my part, think that’s okay. I’ll take what’s in front of me, as long as it’s real.